The East African
Monday, November 29, 2004

The 2004 Aga Khan Architecture Awards

We bring you the details of the seven projects worldwide that were last Saturday declared winners of the ninth cycle of the world's largest architectural awards, which have a triennial prize fund of $500,000. The awards ceremony took place in India at the historic fort built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in Agra, better known for the world famous Taj Mahal

On 27 November, at a ceremony in India at the historical Agra Fort, His Highness the Aga Khan announced the seven recipients of the 2004 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. 2004 marks the completion of the ninth cycle of the programme, which has a triennial prize fund of $ 500,000, which is divided equally among the winners and is the world’s largest architectural award.

During the current cycle of the Award, 378 projects were presented for consideration, and 23 were reviewed on site by outside experts. An independent Master Jury selected seven Award recipients that are notable for having attained the highest international standards of architectural excellence while reflecting the values of the primarily Muslim societies the projects are intended to serve.

The seven projects selected by the 2004 Award Master Jury are:

- Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

-Primary School, Gando, Burkina Faso

- Sandbag Shelter Prototypes, various locations

- Restoration of Al-Abbas Mosque, Asnaf, Yemen

- Old City of Jerusalem Revitalisation Programme, Jerusalem

- B2 House, Ayvacõk, Turkey

- Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Two of the projects – Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia – are the results of important international architectural competitions for high-profile landmark buildings. A third project – the Sandbag Shelter Prototypes – is an experiment in self-built housing that employs earth-filled sandbags stacked atop each other to form domed and vaulted spaces.

The provision of housing is an important aspect of the Old City of Jerusalem Revitalisation Programme that also includes components for the restoration of historic monuments and for the creation of public and community facilities, schools, and playgrounds.

The Primary School in Gando, Burkina Faso, goes far beyond its educational programme and exemplifies highest-calibre architectural design employing locally available materials and techniques, training, and community participation and empowerment.

B2 House, located in a small village on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, extends architectural design to a poetic level, establishing dialogue between nature and building, inside and outside, and public and private.

The Restoration of Al-Abbas Mosque in Yemen represents attainment of the highest standards of restoration and conservation while, at the same time, investigating the nature and contemporary importance of a sacred site.

The Jury identified four areas of social meaning to illustrate the winning projects: how the complexity of history and of historical memory can be expressed in architecture; how private initiatives are integrated into the emerging public sphere; how to express individuality within complex social settings and in the context of the plurality of Muslim traditions; and how power and authority in the global domains of technology, culture and economics might be addressed through architecture.

Throughout their two week-long meetings at the Award headquarters in Geneva, the Jury gave foremost importance to projects that raise the standards of excellence.

Bibliotheca Alexandrina

THE BIBLIOTHECA Alexandrina is a revival of the legendary ancient library built in classical Greek times. The rebuilding of the library has returned Alexandria to its former status as a centre for learning and exchange and provided the city with a landmark building. The spirit of international co-operation in which the library was conceived, funded, designed and implemented has been maintained in its management to create an institution that is truly global in its outlook. At the same time, the building is technically outstanding.

Alexandria is Egypt’s main port, forming a large industrial and commercial centre and an important summer resort. In 1974, the University of Alexandria began a campaign for the rebuilding of the ancient library, choosing the current site, which is believed to be close to the original location. In 1988, Egypt’s President Mubarak took up the project at a national level and an international competition, organised by the Egyptian government in collaboration with the International Union of Architects, was won by the Norwegian company Sn¿hetta in 1989. Detailed archaeological excavations of the site were carried out before construction began in 1995, and the building opened in October 2002.

The library was designed as a tilting disc rising from the ground, with four levels below ground and seven above. The scale of the building is thus minimised at close quarters, so it does not overwhelm the visitor. The facility provides a main reading room with seating for 2,000 readers, six specialist libraries, three museums, seven research centres, three permanent galleries, space for temporary exhibitions, a planetarium, a public plaza, offices, a cafeteria and all the necessary services required for such a complex. The circular form of the library also has strong symbolic significance and an iconic presence. Its exterior wall is clad with four thousand granite blocks carved with letters from the alphabets of the world.

The main reading area is a single open space with eight terraces, each accommodating a different subject section, starting from the roots of knowledge (philosophy, history, religion, geography) and ending with the latest technologies.

The substructure of the library is the most innovative part of the project. The half-submersion of the building 18 metres below ground on a site close to the sea raised serious structural problems. Its circular diaphragm wall is considered the largest in the world, with a diameter of 160 metres and a height of 35 metres. The foundations are unique in that they were designed as tension piles with a heavy raft foundation on the south side and as compression piles to take the weight on the north side.

One of the most successful features of the building is its use of natural light, drawn in through glazed panels on the roof. The orientation of the roof panels was carefully studied on computer at the design stage to introduce maximum levels of natural light without direct sunlight.

The library and the planetarium are linked at basement level, beneath a public plaza, to an existing conference centre, while a pedestrian bridge spans the plaza between the university and the coastal road.

Most of the users are students from the University of Alexandria and local schools. Various conferences held in the complex have received regional and international attention, raising the profile of the whole city. The library has also acted as a catalyst for improvements throughout the city, such as renovating roads, building bridges and upgrading hotels.

The library is seen as a progressive landmark for the country as a whole, reinstating Egypt on the map as an open, modern centre of cultural exchange.

Gando Primary School

This school is the result of one man’s mission to improve conditions in his village. Not only did he design the school and raise the funds to build it; he also secured government support to train people in building with local materials, and drew on the strong tradition of community solidarity to engage all of the villagers in the construction of this school for their children.

Gando, with a population of 3,000, lies on the southern plains of Burkina Faso, some 200 kilometres from Ouagadougou, the capital. Di b do Francis K r , the first person from Gando to study abroad, was convinced that education was the cornerstone of his people’s advancement. As an architecture student in Berlin, he took upon himself the cause of ensuring that his village would not be deprived of a school, and with a group of friends in Germany, K r set up a fundraising association, Schulbausteine f?r Gando (Bricks for the Gando School). The idea met with a positive response and, having secured finance through the association, K r also obtained the support of LOCOMAT (a government agency in Burkina Faso) to train brickmakers in the technique of working with compressed stabilised earth. Construction of the school began in October 2000, carried out largely by the village’s men, women and children. After the school was completed in July 2001, construction of buildings for resident teachers began along similar principles.

To achieve sustainability, the project was based on the principles of designing for climatic comfort with low-cost construction, making the most of local materials and the potential of the local community, and adapting technology from the industrialised world in a simple way. It was also conceived as an exemplar that would raise awareness in the local community of the merits of traditional materials.

Climatic considerations largely determined the building’s form and materials. Three classrooms are arranged in a linear fashion and separated by covered outdoor areas that can be used for teaching and play. The structure comprises traditional load-bearing walls made from stabilised and compressed earth blocks. Concrete beams run across the width of the ceiling, and steel bars lying across these support a ceiling also of compressed earth blocks. Climatic comfort is also ensured by the overhanging roof, which shades the fa?ades, by the raising of the corrugated metal roof on a steel truss, allowing cooling air to flow freely between the roof and the ceiling, and through the use of earth blocks for the walls, which absorb heat, moderating room temperature.

The roof form was dictated by practical considerations: it was not possible to transport large elements to the site from afar, nor economically viable to use lifting machinery such as cranes. Instead, the architect devised a process whereby common construction steel bars were used to create lightweight trusses, with corrugated metal sheeting laid on top to form the roof. All that was necessary was to teach people how to use a handsaw and a small welding machine.

All the people involved in the project management were native to the village, and the skills learned here will be applied to further initiatives in the village and elsewhere. The way the community organised itself has set an example for two neighbouring villages, which subsequently built their own schools as a co-operative effort. The local authorities have also recognised the project’s worth: not only have they provided and paid for the teaching staff, but they have also endeavoured to employ the young people trained there in the town’s public projects, using the same techniques.

Jury Citation

This project has received an Award for its elegant architectonic clarity, achieved with the most humble of means and materials, and for its transformative value. Located in a remote settlement of Burkina Faso, the school is the result of a vision that was first articulated by the architect and then embraced by his community. The first person from his village with access to higher education, while studying architecture in Berlin he became determined to design and build the school. Securing funding for materials from supporters in Germany, he mobilised the men, women and children of the village to erect the building. The result is a structure of grace, warmth and sophistication, in sympathy with the local climate and culture. The practical and the poetic are fused. The primary school in Gando inspires pride and instils hope in its community, laying the foundations for the advancement of a people.

Al-Abbas Mosque

Restoration of Al-Abbas Mosque Location: Near Asnaf, Yemen Conservators: Maryl'ne Barret, France, with assistance from Abdullah al-Hadrami, Yemen, for architectural and masonry restoration. Construction: Dec 1995-March 1996 Site Area: 1200 m2 Built Area: 110 m2 Cost: $400,000

AL-ABBAS MOSQUE is a testimony to the living traditions and architectural achievements of one of the world’s earliest civilisations. Built over 800 years ago, the mosque is situated on the remains of a pre-Islamic shrine or temple on a site considered sacred since ancient times. Its cubic form also has ancient precedents, including the Kaaba in Mecca. The local population continues to revere the mosque and the site today still holds special significance for them.

Set in the highlands of Yemen, 40 kilometres from Sana’a, Al-Abbas Mosque dates from the last days of the Sulayhid Dynasty. An inscription in the interior dates the building to Dhu al-Hijjah 519 (December 1125ÐJanuary 1126 in the Gregorian calendar) and names the founder as Sultan Musa bin Muhammed al-Fitti. But the mosque is in fact named after a little-known holy man called Abbas, believed to be buried there.

The mosque’s elaborate coffered ceiling is in complete contrast to the building’s modest exterior. The ceiling’s 22 caissons are covered with intricate decoration carved, gilded and painted in tempera on a wooden support. By the 1980s, the ceiling was suffering from rot and warping. In 1985, the Yemeni Government asked the French Centre for Yemeni Studies in Sana’a to help preserve it. The ceiling was dismantled with funding from Unesco and removed to the National Museum at Sana’a. In 1987, the French Centre asked archaeologist-conservator Maryl?ne Barret to carry out its restoration, which took three years.

Major repairs were also required on the roof, and the decision was taken to restore the fabric of the building itself. Maryl?ne Barret undertook this work with Yemeni architect Abdullah al-Hadrami, together with a team of French and Yemeni archaeologists and the best local craftsmen, who completed the restoration project in 1996.

After the completion of the roof, 1,000 separate pieces of ceiling were carefully assembled like a puzzle and numbered in the museum. They were then transported to the mosque, one row at a time, and fixed to an ingenious new supporting structure of U-shaped box beams that is entirely hidden now that the restored panels are in place.

Since the restoration, the building’s original elegance and decoration have come alive, increasing the interest of the local residents, who are proud of their mosque and are especially happy to see the beautiful ceiling back in place.

B2 House, Turkey

Location: B?ykh?sun, Ayvacõk, Turkey Architect: Han T?mertekin, Turkey Completion: June 2001 Site Area: 600 m2 Built area: 150 m2 Cost: $140,000

TWO TURKISH brothers, Selman and Suha Bilal, wanted to build a house on Turkey’s north Aegean coast as a place to spend weekends in a spot where they could find beauty, tranquillity and seclusion without travelling long distances from their homes in Istanbul.

B2 House is located on the edge of B?ykh?sun, a small village near Ayvacik housing a tightly knit community of around 450 people who work mainly in agriculture. Located just outside the south-east boundary of the village, the pure rectangular mass of B2 House sits on an open terraced site, unmistakably modern and separate from the traditional houses of the surrounding village, but respecting and allying itself with those houses through its use of traditional local materials and techniques. The house opens itself to the surroundings and encourages its users not only to observe the landscape but also to immerse themselves in nature through the use of semi-external and external parts of the accommodation. It is a place where a basic shelter becomes a space for the celebration and contemplation of nature.

The response of the Turkish architect, Han T?mertekin, to the sloping topography of the triangular site, which drops 7 metres from north to south, is also based on the local practice of terracing. The site is divided into two flat plateaus with a difference of 1.3 metres between them, creating a long rectangular terrace, on which the house is placed, and a triangular terrace to the back of the house, which is used as a garden. Like the local houses, B2 House is embedded in the slope of the mountainside; however, in contrast to the local building typology, there are no garden walls around B2 House. As a result, the site is absorbed by the surrounding landscape but, at the same time, the house is set apart, appearing almost as a sculpture on a pedestal.

The owners sought to contain the scale of the house in order to maintain construction costs while achieving a simple, practical structure that would not demand much maintenance. The programme is therefore basic: the ground floor is dominated by a large living room and the upper floor by two bedrooms. The connection between the two floors is through an external stair of wood and steel.

The purity of the main spaces and an integration with nature are maintained by semi-external spaces set within a 1.2-metre-deep utility wall that contains bathrooms, a laundry area, storage, a kitchenette and a fireplace that opens onto an outdoor living room sheltered beneath the stair deck. All of the outdoor spaces are conceived as integral parts of the house.

The structure of the house is earthquake resistant and fairly simple, and was built with local technology and materials.

With a reduced architectural language employing humble materials and rudimentary forms, remarkable spatial conditions are achieved in B2 House. The spaces gain a sublime presence that transforms the sense of a dwelling into that of a monument. The house functions as an apparatus for perceiving nature with truly mesmerizing effects, constantly shifting the user from domestic activity to a state of pure contemplation in a suspended timeless zone. Its capacity to transport its users between different realms is extended to its image: the pure mass on a pedestal is conceived with the silent grandeur and noble simplicity of a monument, while its scale and humble materials take it back to the realm of the vernacular.

Old City, Jerusalem

Old City of Jerusalem Revitalisation Programme (OCJRP)

Conservation: OCJRP Technical Office, Jerusalem Construction: 1995Ðongoing Occupation: Since 1996 Site Area: 871,000 m2 Old City Cost: $12,382,000 (1996Ð2003)

JERUSALEM HAS an extraordinarily long and varied history, but the urban fabric of the old city is threatened by overcrowding, lack of maintenance and poor services. The Old City of Jerusalem Revitalisation Programme aims to rehabilitate the city, to preserve its heritage and to create a better quality of life for its inhabitants. The body of completed works to date includes over 160 projects, all undertaken in close collaboration with local institutions, international organisations and funding agencies.

The urban fabric has suffered from neglect, inappropriate use and inadequate services, with many people living in dilapidated buildings in unsanitary conditions. To address these issues the Welfare Association – a Geneva-based non-governmental organisation established in 1983 to support Palestinians in all development areas – set up a technical office in Jerusalem in 1995. The office is composed of professionals from different fields: architecture, engineering, planning, economics and history.

The Old City Revitalisation Plan forms the basis of the programme’s work. A broad survey was carried out to identify the buildings most in danger and make proposals for their rehabilitation. The aim is not the immediate restoration of a contiguous quarter but interventions throughout the old city. Many of the projects are houses – either single buildings of two or three storeys housing one or two families, or traditional residential complexes (hosh) of several units surrounding a courtyard and housing up to 10 families. The programme also focuses on major public or religious buildings – mosques, churches, madrasas (schools) and hostels – some of which retain their original function, while others are adapted to a new use.

The duration of the projects varies from about three months for a small house to many years for non-residential projects; work on buildings of historic and architectural value is carried out slowly and sensitively and decisions are made with great care. Dar al Aytam (pictured above) is one such example, and this historic orphanage, comprising five monumental buildings from the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, including a soup kitchen and bakery established by the wife of Sultan S?leyman, is being upgraded incrementally as an educational institution.

By the end of 2003, 82 residential projects and 26 public and 55 commercial buildings had been restored through the programme, providing decent living conditions for residents, creating new spaces for the community and ensuring the preservation of the rich historic fabric of the old city.

Sandbag Shelter Prototypes

Various locations Architect: Cal-Earth Institute, Nader Khalili, US Timetable: First development, 1992

Prototypes built to date by: Hamid Irani and Iraqi refugees at Baninajar Camp, Iran; Eric Hansen, Mexico; Djalal and Shahla Sherafat, Canada; Michelle Queyroy and orphans at the MEG Foundation, India; Dada Krpasundarananda, India, Thailand and Siberia; Mara Cranic, Baja, Mexico; Virginia Sanchis, Brasil; Patricio Calderon, Chile; Jim Guerra and Mexican farmworkers, US; Don Graber, Craig Cranic, Giovanni Panza and Yacqui People of Sarmiento, Mexico.

The global need for housing includes millions of refugees and displaced persons – victims of natural disasters and wars. Iranian architect Nader Khalili believes that this need can be addressed only by using the potential of earth construction.

After extensive research into vernacular earth building methods in Iran, followed by detailed prototyping, he has developed the sandbag or Superadobe system. The basic construction technique involves filling sandbags with earth and laying them in courses in a circular plan. The circular courses are corbelled near the top to form a dome. Barbed wire is laid between courses to prevent the sandbags from shifting and to provide earthquake resistance.

The system employs the timeless forms of arches, domes and vaults to create single and double-curvature shell structures that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing. While these load-bearing or compression forms refer to the ancient mudbrick architecture of the Middle East, the use of barbed wire as a tensile element alludes to the portable tensile structures of nomadic cultures. The result is an extremely safe structure. The addition of barbed wire to the compression structures creates earthquake resistance; the aerodynamic form resists hurricanes; the use of sandbags aids flood resistance; and the earth itself provides insulation and fireproofing.

The system is particularly suitable for providing temporary shelter because it is cheap and allows buildings to be quickly erected by hand by the occupants themselves with a minimum of training.

Each shelter comprises one major domed space with some ancillary spaces for cooking and sanitary services. Incremental additions such as ovens and animal shelters can also be made to provide a more permanent status and the technology can also be used for both buildings and infrastructure such as roads, kerbs, retaining walls and landscaping. Men and women, old and young, can build since the maximum weight lifted is an earth-filled can to pour into the bags. Barbed wire and sandbags are supplied locally, and the stabiliser is also usually locally sourced.

Since 1982, Nader Khalili has developed and tested the Superadobe prototype in California. In 1991 he founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), a non-profit research and educational organisation. Cal-Earth has focused on researching, developing and teaching the technologies of Superadobe. The prototypes have not only received California building permits but have also met the requirements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for emergency housing. Both the UNHCR and the United Nations Development Programme have chosen to apply the system, which they used in 1995 to provide temporary shelters for a flood of refugees coming into Iran from Iraq.

Jury Citation

These shelters serve as a prototype for temporary housing using extremely inexpensive means to provide safe homes that can be built quickly and have the high insulation values necessary in arid climates. Their curved form was devised in response to seismic conditions, ingeniously using sand or earth as raw materials, since their flexibility allows the construction of single- and double-curvature compression shells that can withstand lateral seismic forces.

The prototype is a symbiosis of tradition and technology. It employs vernacular forms, integrating load-bearing and tensile structures, but provides a remarkable degree of strength and durability for this type of construction, which is traditionally weak and fragile, through a composite system of sandbags and barbed wire. Created by packing local earth into bags, which are then stacked vertically, the structures are not external systems applied to a territory, but instead grow out of their context, recycling available resources for the provision of housing. The sustainability of this approach is further strengthened because the construction of the sandbag shelters does not require external intervention but can be built by the occupants themselves with minimal training. The system is also highly flexible: the scale of structures and arrangement of clusters can be varied and applied to different ecosystems to produce settlements that are suitable for different numbers of individuals or groups with differing social needs. Due to their strength, the shelters can also be made into permanent housing, transforming the outcome of natural disasters into new opportunities.

Petronas Towers

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Architect: Cesar Pelli & Associates, US Completion: January 1997-August 1999 Site Area: Petronas & Retail: 5.8 hectares Built Area: 218,000 m2 each tower; 994,000 m2 total Petronas complex Cost: $800,000,000

THE PETRONAS Towers are the centrepiece of the mixed-use Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) complex, set in the heart of the commercial district of the city. Rising 452 metres, the towers were certified the world’s tallest buildings by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 1996. The complex is at the forefront of technology, with a form derived from an Islamic pattern, and extensive use of local materials. The towers have become a popular example of contemporary architecture in Malaysia, and their elegant form makes them the country’s most significant urban landmark.

In 1981 the Malaysian Government undertook the development of a 40-hectare site in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s emerging business district Ð the Golden Triangle. In 1991, an international competition was held for the design of the office tower complex and was won by Cesar Pelli & Associates.

The project design is based on the concept of two interlocking squares that form an eight-pointed star modified by placing eight semicircles in the angles of the corners to create more floor space. Each tower rises 88 storeys and provides 218,000 square metres of floor space, including an additional circular bustle or annex 44 storeys high. The towers taper at six intervals, with the walls of the upper levels sloping inwards. Both towers are topped by a conical spire and a 73.5-metre-high pinnacle.

The towers are connected at the 41st and 42nd levels, 170 metres above street level, by a sky bridge, enabling intercommunication between the towers. The structural design of the sky bridge was complex because it had to accommodate differing movements from each tower. The towers are also joined at their base to form a six-level retail and entertainment complex with a central atrium. From the atrium, two streets, lined with over 300 shops, caf s and restaurants, extend along opposite axes. In addition, the complex includes an 880-seat concert hall, an art gallery, a specialised library and an interactive science discovery centre, as well as a four-storey underground car park for 5,400 cars.

The Petronas Towers complex combines modern technology with a sense of cultural identity. It has also introduced new architectural standards to Malaysia.